Lloyds Banking Group, which includes Lloyds TSB Bank, Bank of Scotland and Halifax, has been fined £28,038,800 by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) for serious failings in its control over sales incentive schemes.
The incentive schemes rewarded the banks’ advisers through variable base salaries, individual and team bonuses, and one-off payments and prizes.
According to the FCA, the incentive schemes led to a serious risk that sales staff were put under pressure to hit targets to earn a bonus or avoid being demoted, rather than focus on what consumers may need or want.
The FCA increased the fine by 10% because the previous regulator, the Financial Services Authority (FSA), had warned about the use of poorly-managed incentive schemes over a number of years.
The FCA’s investigation focused on advised sales of investment products, such as individual savings accounts, and protection products, such as critical illness or income protection, between 1 January 2010 and 31 March 2012.
Inadequate incentive controls
It found that the systems and controls used by the banks to manage sales incentive schemes were inadequate. Seven out of 10 advisers at Lloyds TSB and three out of 10 at Halifax still received their monthly bonus, even through a high proportion of sales were found to be unsuitable or potentially unsuitable.
The FCA also found that 229 advisers at Lloyds TSB received a bonus even when all of their assessed sales were deemed unsuitable or potentially unsuitable, and 30 advisers received a bonus in the same circumstances on more the one occasion.
In September 2012, the FSA published a review into sales incentives, highlighting some of the poor practices used by employers across the retail market, including some of the UK’s biggest financial institutions.
The FCA is currently conducting follow-up work to see if employers are now managing the risks to consumers from sales-based incentives and plans to publish the findings in the first quarter of 2014.
The banks have agreed to settle at an early stage and therefore qualified for a 20% discount. Without the discount, the total fine would have been £35,048,556.
Incentives schemes influence culture
Tracey McDermott, director of enforcement and financial crime at the FCA, said: “Financial incentive schemes are an important indicator of what management values and a key influence on the culture of the organisation, so they must be designed with the customer at the heart.
“The review of incentive schemes that we published last year makes it quite clear that this is something to which we expect all firms to adhere.
“Because there have been numerous warnings to the industry about the importance of managing incentives schemes, and because Lloyds TSB had been fined in 2003 for unsuitable sales of bonds, we have increased the fine by 10%.
“Both Lloyds TSB and the Bank of Scotland have made substantial changes, and the reviews of sales and the redress now being made should right many of these wrongs.”
A statement from Lloyds Banking Group said: “Lloyds Banking Group accepts the findings of an FCA investigation into its historic systems and controls governing legacy incentive schemes for branch advisers, and has agreed to pay a fine of £28 million.
“The group launched its new strategy in 2011 to fully refocus the business on its customers. As part of that approach, the group has been addressing historic issues and ensuring that customers get fair and appropriate outcomes.
“As soon as these issues were identified in 2011, the group acted immediately to make significant changes to ensure that all its schemes focused on doing the right things for customers and providing good service. The FCA has acknowledged that we have made substantial improvements to systems and controls governing incentives.”